Chad Hollister will be familiar to folks who've kept a steady eye on the Burlington music scene. Back in the '90s, Hollister went by his first name only, building a reputation with earnest, good-natured pop tunes and dogged work ethic. Along the way, he enjoyed the company of jam-gods Phish, with whom he occasionally gigged.
Hollister's latest disc, Spirits, is dedicated to the memory of his father, Reverend William Hollister. The senior Hollister was an important figure in Chad's life, encouraging him to follow his musical dreams. He's done just that over the course of five independent releases.
Much of the music on Spirits could be classified as adult contemporary, which is to say it employs tried-and-true songwriting structures. The production is impeccable throughout; guitars shimmer and sparkle; drums sound like the timekeeper is right in your room. Hollister's gruffly melodic voice claims the front of the mix, creating a sense of intimacy. Subtle musical flourishes add dimension to each cut, elevating the material above its humble acoustic origins.
The songs themselves walk a fine line between the canny and the cliche. Hollister's heart is worn plainly on his sleeve, but his prose is sometimes weighed down by mundane platitudes.
"Don't want to hear about J-Lo, or where she's been," states the first line from opening cut "Simplicity." There's no better way to permanently date a record than to throw a pop-culture reference into your lyrics. Remember the Tae Bo reference in Train's sap-fest "Drops of Jupiter?" I didn't think so.
"Dr. Bethesda" fares far better, with a shifting time signature and deliciously feisty horn line. Hollister's peppery vocals reference an unscrupulous M.D. who could be a distant relative of Steely Dan's "Kid Charlemagne." "I'll bring 50 cbs of methane for the pain / And a Great Dane / So she won't feel so insane / And a '72 version of "Sweet Jane," he scats in the tune's turbulent finale.
"Comin' After" is a funk-lite ditty with a love song's heart, while the gentle ballad "Insecurity" features slide guitar and tasty organ work. Closing cut "Fall" strips away the sonic trappings, revealing Hollister for what he truly is: an ace balladeer with decent chops and ruggedly tender vocals.
Hollister has a regular solo gig at T. Bones in Colchester on Wednesdays; you can also catch him with his trio at Montpelier's Black Door Bar and Bistro on Friday, Feb. 3.